Our communities are the site of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and femicide. When these cases occur, it is communities that reel from such incidents and victims and perpetrators are often members of the community, with ties and roots in the community. It is therefore important that national policies and GBV laws find expression in, and resonate with, community members in the form of locally-owned and informed GBV prevention strategies.
The pervasiveness of SGBV, particularly sexual violence in South Africa is alarming. In the month of April alone, a number of young women and girls were raped in a number of communities. Many cases did not make headlines this month. All these cases have one thing in common: They have taken place in a community setting; the perpetrators are mostly known to community members and victims are children to families in the communities. The aftermath of the violence will continue to ring in the ears of community members long after the national spotlight has waned. Community-led and informed SGBV prevention strategies as community social contracts, and statements of commitment by and for community members, make sense as an effective strategy to address community-based SGBV cases that are on the rise.
The challenge with national laws, as progressive and transformational as they are, is that at the most, they remain an abstract to a large section of communities particularly those most affected by SGBV and the womxn and girls who bear the brunt of GBV in their homes and public spaces. At the very least, the laws and policies are crafted in legalese and policy language, and as such, they use generic and allencompassing language that does not zoom into the nuances and context-specific realities on the ground. Community SGBV prevention strategies capture the nuances, the lived realities of victims and address the root causes of this scourge in communities. It is community members, from leaders, law enforcement, families and victims themselves who rise up and commit to collectively taking action against the incidents of rape and GBV as well as the key drivers of such violence.
Funerals, stokvels and community dialogues become the rallying points of action, galvanising multi-stakeholder reflections on the challenges, gaps and what needs to be done to address SGBV in those communities. The upscaling and sustainability of such collective action is only possible through development of a community-led and informed SGBV prevention strategy, where community members do not necessarily need to know or quote the 3 GBV laws passed by the South African government in January 2022 or the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide (NSP-GBVF). This would be a strategy that responds to the SGBV issues and challenges in the community, one that resonates and is relevant to the realities and experiences on the ground, without ascribing to a "one-size-fits-all". As a communityled and informed strategy, the community members, including community-based organisations, localised offices of government departments such as social development, police station personnel and the ward councillor's office, all participate in curbing the incidents using a multi-disciplinary approach, where each stakeholder uses their influence, voice and power – real or imagined – this is besides the point, to tackle the plague of SGBV.
GBV laws only meet and address reality when broken down into bite-sized, context-specific and incident-responsive localised strategies that every community commits to because they address their issues and empower them to do something in their small corner and with what they have. This way, the fight is localised, locally-owned and collectively binding. When we evaluate the formal or informal community-led SGBV prevention strategies, we realise that the very laws that usually have little uptake by communities are effectively implemented. As the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), we are undertaking this mammoth task of driving the development of community-led and informed SGBV prevention strategies that are relevant, responsive to and resonant with the realities of SGBV in eight communities that we work in – Mamelodi, Diepsloot, Inner City Johannesburg, Alexandra, Orange Farm, Kagiso, Ekangala and Marikana. The strategy draws from the NSP-GBVF, the National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security and the GBV laws in the country.
Our approach entails a multidisciplinary engagement with the communities where we engage in community dialogues with multiple stakeholders in each community, bringing everyone together to deliberate on the issues prevalent in each community, key drivers and root causes of SGBV; undertake research with community members on their opinions and recommendations on what needs to be done; train community members and law enforcement officers including local SAPS officials and CPF members on GBV laws and policies, to enhance and inform their response to SGBV cases; raise awareness and establish community-based campaigns on SGBV and we also provide psychosocial support to victims and their families, highlighting the need for psychosocial support and empowerment platforms for womxn and girls in communities. Communities are where the tyre hits the tarmac when it comes to the perpetration of SGBV.
With communities as landscapes and sites of these crimes and violence, it therefore makes sense to us as an organisation to localise what exists at national level to protect womxn and girls and give it local ownership and nuance, with community members at the front and centre of what needs to be done, by who when and how, collectively, with everyone signing up to this collective action and commitment. When national laws are given life and expression at community level this way, we have hope that we can win the war against SGBV in our lifetime.